The first time I saw a photograph by Massimo Vitali was at the Jeu de Paume in Paris in 2009 as part of a Martin Parr exhibition. The exhibition was on two floors; on the first floor there was Parr’s solo show, “Luxury”, and on the ground floor there was a selection from Martin Parr’s private collection with prints from different artists, including many documentary photographs.

It was a picture from the Disco series. I didn’t know anything about this series. I knew his beaches well, known and imitated just as Parr’s photography was. But I didn’t know Massimo’s night.

Usually when something really strikes you in a show, whether it’s photos or paintings, if you don’t know the artist you immediately look at the name on the label. But when something really overwhelms you, you don’t even think about it. You just look at the artwork. There will be, later on, the time to understand who did it. Getting closer to the print, I started to see thousands of smaller pictures within the photograph. I got closer; I watched the faces; the arms up in the air, as if they were frozen. How could he possibly use all those flashes in a disco at night? Why did he choose such a heightened perspective? These technical thoughts were quickly swept away by another face, another gesture, by two suspenders, a red dress, by haircuts that look strange today, but which were probably or rather surely in fashion at the time of the shot. And while I didn’t have the eyes that I have today in those years, with that picture I was suddenly transported there and to that time, here and now. Twelve years before, 1997, but with the eyes of now, 2009. 1997 to 2009. I was there without ever having been there. It was as if I was dancing with those guys and had met them one by one. And I am not even a good dancer. That, I thought, that is photography.

With that picture, Massimo Vitali killed all the documentary photographers in the world. My friends and acquaintances who had sent emails for years to magazines and been on the front pages of this or that newspaper, were pulverized by a shot that included everything. There are photographers who, in order to take a single picture, have to shoot 100 pictures. And there are photographers that take a single picture in which you can find 100 pictures. Massimo belongs to the second category. There are photographers who travel 10.000 km thinking that the distance will guarantee an original idea, and there are photographers who simply turn the corner and can speak of 10.000 km. I think of Robert Adams and Chris Killip, and I think again of Massimo.

It was many years before I had the pleasure of meeting Massimo personally. Now I can boast that I consider him a friend. And so it was a bit embarrassing for me to write about him, and even more so to write well about him. I feel a bit relieved knowing that he will not care about what I’m writing here and that, eventually, he will note (if he finds it) a smart point in this piece, and he will laugh turning up the right side of his mouth for two seconds, lying on his chair already thinking about something else, about his plants, or his Tesla, or about the next photograph.

Valerio Spada, 29 agosto 2017.
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